The Depot

Fighter Pilot Helmets: Why Are They Yellow?

The U.S. Navy, for as long as they’ve had aviation, has been lenient on what aircrews put on their flight helmets. In particular, the fighter pilot helmet is a source of pride and most in the naval aviator community can determine the unit a pilot is with just by looking at their fighter pilot helmet.

The Navy learned long ago that allowing fighter pilot helmet customization was a huge morale boost. Fighter pilot helmet customization allowed pilots to creatively express themselves which led to greater esprit de corps. The U.S. Air Force, however, took a little longer to figure that out.

For decades there were only two Air Force units authorized to decorate the fighter pilot helmet on their head; the Thunderbirds (the Air Force’s aerial demonstration team) and aggressor pilot units.

To the uninitiated civilian masses, the issue might seem unimportant, but the U.S. military is a team of teams and as we know from the team-centric culture, organizational identity is important to individuals. Organizational brands help shape unit culture so it should come as no surprise that fighter pilot helmet customization could have such a positive impact on morale.

A couple of years ago, the Air Force, facing a serious pilot shortage, opted to lift restrictions on fighter pilot helmet adornment in one of many moves made to incentivize pilots to stay in the ranks. Pilots had been complaining for years about the restrictions placed on Air Force flying units. It seems that the pilots finally got the issue the attention it deserved.

Fighter pilot helmet customization thus took off, pun intended, in the Air Force around 2020 and pilots and the units they belong started going out of their way to ensure their pilots express themselves individually while paying homage to the greater culture they belong to.

There is one unit with a striking fighter pilot helmet that stands out amongst other Air Force units. It is almost like someone took a giant yellow highlighter and marked every fighter pilot helmet in the squadron as if to tell people, don’t forget this, no different than when someone marks up a book and highlights an important passage.

The yellow-helmeted pilots belong to the fabled 336th Fighter Squadron also known as “The Rocketeers.” They are a part of the 4th Operations Group at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. They are hard to miss in a yellow fighter pilot helmet and yellow tail trim on their F-15E Strike Eagles. Their sister units in the 4th Fighter Wing have their own colors of red, blue and green. The wing is comprised of two operational fighter units, including the 336th and two fighter training squadrons.

The history of the Rocketeers dates back to World War II and the unit has served in every major American conflict since with their distinctive yellow tail trim and now, yellow fighter pilot helmet.

But why yellow? To understand the present, we have to revisit the past.

First off, aircraft markings were increasingly used in World War II not for style or flair, but as a tool to enable fast-moving fighters to identify each other in the often cloudy, gray skies of Europe. The colors on the friendly aircraft helped pilots engaged in dogfights to identify friend or foe. It sounds primitive, but it worked.

Using bright colors on aircraft is credited to two pilots of the Fourth Fighter Group during World War II who had their maintenance crews paint red-and-white checkerboard patterns on the cowlings of both of their P-51 Mustangs. Those distinct markings have bled onto the pilot uniform through patches, scarves, t-shirts and of course the fighter pilot helmet. They are also still found on the aircraft themselves, although given modern dogfighting and technological advances, aircraft markings have no significant tactical use and mostly pay homage to a unit’s history and lineage, especially when that unit destroyed more than 1,000 German aircraft in World War II, more than any other fighter group.

During the Korean War, the 336th squadron transitioned to F-86 Sabre fighter jets and their aircraft were known to the enemy to be fast as rockets. The fighter group finished the war with more than 500 aircraft kills, more than 50 percent of the aircraft killed by the U.S. Air Force in the Korean War. Not long after, yellow took hold of the squadron as did the nickname, Rocketeers.

Yellow, despite gaining a foot hold in the squadron over the past decades, did not make its way onto the fighter pilot helmet of the 336th F-15 drivers until not long ago. Today, pilots in the 336th wear yellow helmets ordinarily with their call signs stenciled on them (usually a sticker). The fighter pilot helmet is usually wrapped in some type of vinyl decal.

Pilots who are new to the squadron and have not yet received their callsign receive a yellow helmet that might have an image of a gear on it. This cog, as it is known, serves to remind the newbies that they are a part of a big machine, they are a cog in a system that serves a larger mission. As mentioned earlier, it is a reminder that the squadron is a part of a wing, a part of a group, a part of the Air Force and a part of the U.S. military, a team of teams.

The U.S. Air Force has roughly 5,300 aircraft in its inventory as of 2021. Of that, there are roughly 55 fighter squadrons each with their own history and lineage. Meaning, unit colors are a large part of the unit’s culture and organizational identity because there are so many moving parts in an organization as large as the Air Force.

It is a good thing that the Air Force finally recognized the value of allowing individuals to share a little of their personality. It was a smart move to allow pilots to adorn their fighter pilot helmet. It not only expresses the pilots individuality, but also salutes members of the unit—past, present and future—by illustrating that the unit is proud of its heritage and that the people in the squadron are a part of a much bigger thing than themselves. They are individuals, yes, but also cogs.  

Air Force Commendation Medal: How Is It Awarded?

Almost every branch of service has a commendation medal, the exceptions being the Marine Corps which presents the Navy Commendation Medal since the Marine Corps is a part of the Navy, and the U.S. Space Force which currently uses the Air Force Commendation Medal to recognize Guardians who go above and beyond.

The Air Force, established in 1947, did not have its own commendation medal for more than 10 years until it finally created the Air Force Commendation Medal in 1958.

BACKGROUND
The Air Force Commendation Medal was authorized by the Secretary of the Air Force on March 28, 1958, for award to members of the armed forces of the United States who, while serving in any capacity with the Air Force after March 24, 1958, shall have distinguished themselves by meritorious achievement and service. The degree of merit must be distinctive, though it need not be unique. Acts of courage which do not involve the voluntary risk of life required for the Airman's Medal may be considered for the Air Force Commendation Medal.

MEDAL DESCRIPTION
The Air Force Commendation Medal is a bronze hexagon, with one point up, centered upon which is the seal of the Air Force, an eagle with wings spread, facing left and perched upon a baton. There are clouds in the background. Below the seal is a shield bearing a pair of flyer's wings and a vertical baton with an eagle’s claw at either end; behind the shield are eight lightning bolts.

AUTHORIZED DEVICES
Oak Leaf Cluster, Combat “C”, Remote “R” and Valor “V” Devices are all authorized devices for the Air Force Commendation Medal.

ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA FOR COMBAT “C” DEVICE
The “C” device was established to distinguish an award (like the Air Force Commendation Medal) earned for exceptionally meritorious service or achievement performed under combat conditions on or after Jan. 7, 2016 (this is not retroactive prior to this date).

The device is only authorized if the service or achievement was performed while the service member was personally exposed to hostile action or under significant risk of hostile action:

  • While engaged in action against an enemy of the United States
  • While engaged in military ops involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or
  • While serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party

The use of the “C” device is determined solely on the specific circumstances under which the service or achievement was performed. The award is not determined by geographic location. The fact the service was performed in a combat zone, a combat zone tax exclusion area, or an area designated for imminent danger pay, hardship duty pay, or hostile fire pay is not sufficient to qualify for the “C” device. The service member must have been personally exposed to hostile action or under significant risk of hostile action.  

Rank/Grade will not be a factor in determining whether the “C” device is warranted, nor will any quotas, official or unofficial, be established limiting the number of “C” devices authorized for a given combat engagement, a given operation, or cumulatively within a given expanse of area or time. 

ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA FOR REMOTE “R” DEVICE
The “R” device was established to distinguish an award earned for direct hands-on employment of a weapon system that had a direct and immediate impact on a combat operation or other military operation, for example, the outcome of an engagement or specific effects on a target. Other military operations include Title 10, U.S. Code, support of non-Title 10 operations, and operations authorized by an approved execute order. 

The action must have been performed through any domain and in circumstances that did not expose the individual to personal hostile action, or place him or her at significant risk of personal exposure to hostile action:

  • While engaged in military operations against an enemy of the United States; or
  • While engaged in military ops involving conflict against an opposing foreign force; or
  • While serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in military operations with an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party
The “R” device may be awarded to Airmen who, during the period of the act, served in the remotely piloted aircraft; cyber; space; or Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance career fields on or after Jan. 7, 2016 (this is not retroactive prior to this date).

The "R" device is only authorized for a specific achievement (impact awards) and will not be authorized for sustained performance or service (end-of-tour, separation or retirement decorations)

The “R” device recognizes direct and immediate impact and shall be based on the merit of the individual's actions, the basic criteria of the decoration, and the “R” device criteria.

Performance of a normal duty or accumulation of minor acts will not justify the “R” device. The act must have been: performed in a manner significantly above that normally expected and sufficient to distinguish the individual above members performing similar acts.

A decoration should only be recommended in cases where the event clearly merits special recognition of the action (achieving a strategic objective or saving of lives on the ground).

ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA FOR VALOR “V” DEVICE
The “V” device is worn on decorations to denote valor, an act or acts of heroism by an individual above what is normally expected while engaged in direct combat with an enemy of the United States, or an opposing foreign or armed force, with exposure to enemy hostilities and personal risk.

Effective Jan. 7, 2016, the “V” device is authorized on the Air Force Commendation Medal. 

The Air Force Commendation Medal has a weighted airman promoted system point value of three.

 The Air Force Commendation Medal is ordinarily managed by the awards and decorations section of the human resources team. It can be submitted by any supervisor or nominator through personnel systems.

The Air Force Commendation Medal can be approved by a colonel (O-6) or higher and the Air Force Commendation Medal can be presented to members of a foreign military service. In all cases, it is never presented to anyone in the rank of colonel or higher.

Boot Camp Graduation Gifts: Five Ideas For Their Special Day

Boot camp, basic combat training, BMT; the entry level training that all new military recruits endure when they join the U.S. Armed Forces is referred to differently depending on the branch of service, but everyone joining the U.S. military must endure the rite of passage and attend some type of basic training.

Basic training for every branch of service is different and varies in difficulty, but when its over all participants are happy about their accomplishment and a great way to show them that you’re proud of their achievement is to purchase boot camp graduation gifts. If you do not have a lot of military experience or you’re unsure of what to buy, let us help you with our short list of ideas for boot camp graduation gifts.

Subscriptions
Subscriptions used to be hard to manage, but thanks to technology, anyone can read, watch and play games from their personal devices.

Subscriptions make great boot camp graduation gifts because hard copy magazines are fading into history and most, if not all, magazines are available in a digital format with a subscription. If your newly minted Soldier, Airman, Marine, Sailor, or Guardian isn’t really into periodicals, then maybe a subscription to a popular streaming channel might be a great gift. If the new service member in your life is a gamer, there are plenty of membership subscriptions that will satisfy their gaming fixes and also make great boot camp graduation gifts.

Gift Cards
Gift cards make great boot camp graduation gifts because they give the recipient complete freedom to purchase what they want. Gift cards can be used in a variety of ways to shop for uniform items, including ribbon racks, or service pride items, but rest assured, you can’t go wrong with gift cards as boot camp graduation gifts, especially when you can send them virtually via e-mail or drop them in the mail as a traditional plastic card.

Books
If the basic trainee graduate in your life loves to read, then good boot camp graduation gifts are books. If the graduates have reading devices, you can simply digitally purchase a book for them and they are sent a link to download their book. You can also buy them a credit on a particular e-book platform and they can download a book of their choice if you don’t want to be deal with shipping something.

If your young troop knows where they are headed after graduation, then consider hard copy books and even audio books for them to listen to. These formats make great boot camp graduation gifts for those who are book fans.

Military Gifts
Some great boot camp graduation gifts are things like shadow boxes, coin racks, and flag cases. Even though graduates are new to the military, these are great boot camp graduation gifts because they can keep them ready and use them once they start receiving awards, coins or other tokens of military service. They will own a way a showcase their tokens. These are always awesome boot camp graduation gifts.

Service Pride
Things like hoodies, t-shirts, and hats all make great boot camp graduation gifts. It’s a nice way for that special basic trainee in your life to show their pride while keeping warm and looking sharp.

Whatever boot camp graduation gifts you decide to buy, shopping and shipping early is always smart to ensure your trainee knows you are thinking about them as they complete their training.

Gifts for Airmen: The Ultimate Holiday Gift Guide

The holidays are closing in fast and if you have a U.S. airman in your life, you might be looking for gifts for airmen that will show them how much you care about them and show them the pride you have in their service.  

The key to buying great gifts for airmen is to truly think about who they are and what they like. If that still doesn’t do the trick to help you find great gifts for airmen in your life, then try this short list to find the perfect gift for the airmen in your life and be sure to take advantage of Black Friday and Cyber Monday specials.

Subscriptions
Subscriptions used to be hard to manage, but thanks to technology, anyone can read, watch and play games from their personal devices.

Subscriptions are great gifts for airmen because hard copy magazines are fading into history and most, if not all, magazines are available in a digital format with a subscription. If your airman isn’t really into periodicals, then maybe a subscription to a popular streaming channel might be a great gift. If the airman in your life is a gamer, there are plenty of membership subscriptions that will satisfy their gaming fix.

Gift Cards
Gift cards make great gifts for airmen because they give the recipient complete freedom to purchase what they want. Gift cards can be used in a variety of ways to shop for airman uniform items, including ribbon racks, or service pride items, but rest assured, you can’t go wrong with gift cards as gifts for airmen, especially when you can send them virtually via e-mail or mail them as a traditional plastic card.

Airman Pride
Airman hoodies, t-shirts, and hats all make great gifts for airmen. It’s a nice way for that special airman in your life to show their pride while keeping warm and looking sharp. Theater hats take a step up and allow them to show their OEF or OIF pride.

Books
If the airman in your life loves to read, then great gifts for airmen are books. If they have reading devices, you can simply purchase a book for them and they are sent a link to download their book. You can also buy them a credit on a particular e-book platform and they can download a book of their choice if you don’t want to be deal with shipping something to an airman who is currently deployed.

If your airman isn’t deployed, then consider hard copy books and even audio books for them to listen to as they work out or drive to work. Either format makes great gifts for airmen who are book fans.

Military Gifts
If you’re shopping for a seasoned airman in your life, then odds are great that your airman’s career has allowed them to collect a lot of coins, awards and trinkets from their many years of service. Items like shadow boxes, coin racks, and flag cases are wonderful gifts for airmen who have amassed items that reflect their military service. Your airman might be so busy that they’ve likely not had the time to organize those items in a way that they can be properly showcased.

These are awesome gifts for airmen or Air Force veterans with a few years of service under their belt.

Whatever gifts for airmen you decide to buy, shopping and shipping early is always smart to ensure your airman knows you are thinking about them during the holidays. Remember, take advantage of those Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales to not only get a great gift, but to save your hard-earned money.

Military Fatigues: What Are They?

If you serve in the U.S. military, you still might hear a couple of people referring to the primary military work uniform as military fatigues. In the next 20 years, that term will likely be obsolete as the people who once used it retire.

Military fatigues are a work uniform. They are used for labor intensive details, as a daily uniform, and also for combat. Today, they have other names, like battle dress or combat uniforms but military fatigues are once they were once known as.

Military fatigues have varied from branch to branch; some have had woodland patterns, others desert, and they have even been plain olive drab colored. A key feature of military fatigues is their durability, despite their oxymoron name, and lots of pockets.

Early American military soldiers wore elaborate and impractical uniforms during the first 100 years or so of the U.S. military’s existence. The uniforms were similar to what is now known as today’s service uniform, normally worn in an administrative or office environment. They are similar to a coat and tie worn by business men and women. Military fatigues weren’t even considered since the military was expected to look sharp, even as it fought. Military fatigues would likely have been considered slovenly.

As the U.S. military fought in wars, it began to understand that it needed a loose-fitting uniform that could allow soldiers to physically perform the many tasks required during combat. And for those of you who have served, it should come as no surprise that the uniform’s evolution took more than 100 years. The first large-scale use of military fatigues was during World War II.

How did military fatigues get their name? There is a lot of speculation and Army historians haven’t been able to pin the source, but it is believed that in the early days of the Army, laborious details were called fatigues. Eventually, as the uniform changed, soldiers performing these labor intensive details in the field wore the battle dress uniform and since they wore them during tiring, hard work, the uniforms eventually were tagged as military fatigues by the soldiers.

In 1981, the woodland camo battle dress uniform became the official duty uniform of the U.S. Army, but it arrived after military fatigues took its journey through the jungles of Vietnam. Through the early 2000s, BDUs would serve as the military’s primary military fatigues and then came a slew of variations until we arrived at what is known as the Army’s OCP uniform.

Military Doctor Benefits: Are They Worth It?

All branches of the military, with the exception of the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Space Force, have military doctor billets. Being a military doctor can be rewarding because a military doctor doesn’t just serve the country, he or she also serves their patients. And in some cases, like flight surgeons, they can also be aviators on flight status (not necessarily pilots), a nice perk for those who can get the rating.

There are multiple paths to becoming a military doctor, but we will focus this post on the two more popular methods of becoming a military doctor.

To become a military doctor in the U.S. armed forces, there are two primary avenues: the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) or the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP).

USUHS
The USUHS, in Bethesda, Maryland, is sometimes referred to as America’s Medical School. It opened its doors in 1972 as a way to create more military doctors. Applicants accepted to the USUHS are placed on active-duty and their education is paid for by the U.S. government. Think of it as a service academy for the military doctor. Applicants can serve as commissioned officers in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and U.S. Public Health Service as a military doctor. Attendees of USUHS, though not military doctors, are considered military officers and must wear their uniforms to class and they are on active duty for the duration of medical school.

Prior to starting at USUHS, candidates are required to attend an officer orientation program to help them transition into military service. Once completed, they can begin their military doctor training. It’s important to note that once a student enters USUHS, they are commissioned as second lieutenants or ensigns, depending on branch choice. They earn O-1 pay while in school for the duration. They are also entitled to full military benefits like medical care, housing allowance and 30 days paid vacation.

Graduates of USUHS are required to serve a seven-year active-duty service commitment as a military doctor. They are then promoted to the rank of captain or the grade of O-3 upon attaining status as a military doctor. Applicants choosing to serve in the U.S. Public Health Service assume a ten-year active-duty obligation.

HPSP
The branches have their scholarship programs located at HPSP Air Force, HPSP Navy and HPSP Army online. All of these are great ways to become a military doctor, but it is important to note that the HPSP is a scholarship program that enables candidates to attend the medical school of their choice. A candidate’s medical school tuition is paid for by the U.S. government and they receive a monthly stipend as they train to be a military doctor.

In HPSP, the military service portion is different as candidates are commissioned as an officer in the IRR (Individual Ready Reserve) as opposed to USUHS where a candidate starts serving and wearing a uniform when they report to the school. In both cases, it leads to a person becoming a military doctor.

As an HPSP participant, your medical training is similar to civilians. Candidates attend medical schools of their choice on their way to becoming a military doctor and there are no military uniforms worn. However, scholars are required to attend officer training and one 45-day training session for each year they receive scholarship funds. Uniforms are required during training periods. Similar to USUHS, candidates must attend an officer orientation in their first two years. During the periods of officer orientation training and the 45-day training sessions, students are paid as O-1s.

Upon completion of their medical school training, candidates are given a $20,000 signing bonus for joining the Army, Navy or Air Force and they incur a one-year service obligation for every year they received scholarship funds. So, four years of medical school would require for years of service as a military doctor. Once you enter active duty, you become a captain or an O-3 in grade.

Air Force Vs Army: Which Branch Is Better?

A considerable amount of subjectivity comes into play when selecting a branch of service to join. If you are thinking about joining the U.S. military, your personal preferences should play heavily into what branch you select.

For example, if you like the ocean, maybe the U.S. Navy is a good fit for you. Do you want to learn an automotive technician vocation, then maybe becoming an U.S. Army mechanic is best for you? The point is that knowing what you want to get from the military is important before you go and visit a recruiter. There are several branches, with many jobs, but if you’ve narrowed it down to joining the U.S. Air Force or the U.S. Army, then maybe this comparison Air Force vs Army post can help you.

Air Force Vs Army (Deployments)
Let’s face it, the primary mission of the U.S. military is to fight and win American wars. However, when it comes to deploying, there is a big difference, generally speaking, between the Air Force and the Army.

Since aircraft are extraordinarily valuable, many, not all, Air Force deployments tend to be locations that are relatively safer. For example, a fighter squadron might deploy to Kuwait to provide routine combat air patrols over an area, as opposed to an infantry company that might deploy to a combat outpost where they are in regular contact with the enemy. In this part of the Air Force Vs Army argument, one can argue that the Air Force is better, because it is safer, but if your goal is to join a ground combat specialty, then the Army wins here. As mentioned before, subjectivity weighs heavily.

Air Force Vs Army (Quality of Life)
Air Force personnel get a lot of grief from members of other branches of service and most of it is because of envy. Air Force bases are notorious for their world class gyms, first rate chow halls, and college-dorm-like barracks. Not to mention, Airmen tend to have the nicest and newest equipment.

Why does the Air Force have a great quality of life? The easy answer is if a person feels supported and cared for, they will likely stick around. In addition, there is an old standing joke in the Air Force ranks that has enlisted airmen saying, “I joined the Air Force because we send our officers to war.” While that is partially true, the Air Force does send its pilots into harm’s way while the majority of the support personnel are in relative safety back at base.

In the Army, that’s a little different. Given the Army has ground forces, it has to be within reach of its forward forces, so many times non-combat arms support personnel will be closer to combat than Air Force personnel. In recent years, The USAF has sent many combat arms personnel into harm’s way, but overall, the Army usually has more personnel in combat zones.

Back at garrison, the Army has made a lot of strides to improve its quality of life for soldiers on post. Soldiers have access to various eateries on post as well as ample recreational opportunities like golf, gyms, horseback riding, rod and gun clubs, auto hobby shops, bowling and other activities. The Army tends to be located in more places around the globe as well, but again, when examining the quality of life, Air Force Vs Army, much depends on what you want for yourself.

Air Force Vs Army (Occupational Specialties)
The Air Force and Army are pretty evenly split here. Both branches offer aviation, law enforcement, cyber, engineering, administrative, mechanical, culinary and other career fields. The key is figuring out what job you want to do and where do you want to do it.

When choosing between the Army or the Air Force, each branch has a number of jobs in similar areas. You’ll find health care, engineering, aviation, administrative, arts and media and mechanical jobs in both branches. If you prefer a job that sees more combat, though, the Army may be the right choice for you. If you have more interest in technology, you’ll find more opportunities in the Air Force. But there are ample opportunities for combat ground roles in the USAF and also plenty of tech jobs in the Army. Much depends on you.

A good way to find out what jobs are a good fit for you is to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery or ASVAB test, which is required for anyone signing up as an enlisted member in the Army or Air Force. The ASVAB measures your abilities to predict which jobs you’re most likely to find success in in the military. This can help you if you do not know what professions interest you.

Air Force Vs Army (Pay and Benefits)
It is important to note that members of the military are paid the same amount as long as they are in the same pay grade. For example, an E-4 in the Air Force makes the same as an E-4 in the Army. Now, if the Air Force E-4 is on flying status or deployed, they might make more money. Similarly, an Army E-4 who is in the airborne can collect jump pay and combat pay if he/she is forward deployed. There are lots of opportunities to make extra pay depending on your duty, but it is important to note in the Air Force Vs Army discussion that all branches pay their grades the same. How fast you climb through those grades is a different story and collection of special pay is up to you and the paths you take professionally.

Air Force Vs Army (Training)
Let’s cut to the chase on the topic of training, there is Air Force basic training and Army basic combat training. Both achieve the same thing; they give attendees a basic understanding of the Army or Air Force and that base training allows a service member to start his or her life in uniform. While the training may vary, the objective is the same.

Training after basic training depends on what occupational specialty you enter. Every technical or advanced school has its requirements. Some Air Force schools might require an airman to train for upwards of two years to be fully qualified while some Army schools might require someone to train for 10 weeks to be fully qualified. Much depends on the occupation.

When it comes to making a decision, Air Force Vs Army, you need to consider what works best for you. Every member in the U.S. military serves for different reasons. Some are motivated by patriotism, some are motivated by adventure, some are motivated by finding a better life. Others want to travel, earn money for college, or gain job skills.

If you’re thinking which is better, Air Force Vs Army, you can’t lose by selecting one of these services. Just ensure you pick was is right for you and what fits into your plans. Follow your head and heart and it will work out.

Grissom Air Museum Worth the Trip

Just outside of Grissom Joint Reserve Base in Indiana is the Grissom Air Museum and if you’re in the area or just passing through, this is a great place to plan a pit stop on your summer road trip. The museum is packed with U.S. Air Force history and if you’ve ever served as an airman, or if you’re just an aviation buff, visiting the museum will not disappoint.

The museum has a multitude of exhibits indoors which include a mock U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds' F-16 cockpit, and an authentic F-4 cockpit (front and rear seats). There is also a Huey helicopter and an A-4 Skyhawk simulator. As long as you’re capable of getting in and out of these displays, anyone can climb in and feel what it is like to be behind the stick of these old warbirds.

If there is a young pilot wannabe in your family, they will love sitting in the cockpit and flipping the switches and yanking on the yoke. Make sure to have your camera handy.

The inside of the museum has a lot of displays devoted to Grissom’s Cold War mission and the exhibits help visitors understand the role that the Grissom Air Force Base played in the Cold War. Did you know, for example, that a B-58 Hustler loaded with nuclear weapons skidded off the runway at Grissom in 1964 and caught fire causing what the Air Force calls a "Broken Arrow?"

Grissom was originally established as Bunker Hill Naval Air Station in 1942, but in 1954 it became Bunker Hill Air Force Base. Later in 1968, it was renamed Grissom Air Force Base after Indiana native and U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Gus Grissom was killed in a launchpad fire on Apollo 1. Grissom was the second American to go into space.

The base closed in 1994 and became a joint reserve base. Today, it is home to the Air Force Reserve’s 434th Air Refueling Wing as well as other Marine Corps Reserve and Army Reserve units.

Outside of the museum there is a wide array of military aircraft from different military branches. On display you can find an A-10 Thunderbolt II, a B-25 Mitchell, C-47 Skytrain, F-4 Phantom, F-14 Tomcat, EC-135 Stratotanker, F-84 Thunderstreak, and a really long list of other aircraft, including helicopters. Each display has a placard with a short description of the aircraft and its history.

We were particularly interested in the A-10 which at one point years ago had my father-in-law’s name on it. He died when his A-10 crashed during a training flight near Grissom.

If you’re a former Air Force security policeman (Security Forces), climb up the security tower. Back in the day, security SPs (back when security and law enforcement were two different fields) used to keep a vigilant eye on priority aircraft from towers similar to the one at the museum. The tower overlooks all of the aircraft on static display almost as if it is keeping watch over all the old warbirds.

When I visited the Grissom Museum I saw a young family picnicking in the shade under a parked aircraft in front of the museum. It was a nice spot to spread a blanket and enjoy the shade and lush grass.

If you are a history, military or aviation buff, you can easily spend a couple of
hours just on the inside of the museum alone. Outside, it will take you at least an hour to walk the plane yard if you are into historical aircraft. I recommend getting there early in the summer as it can get pretty toasty and the cooler morning temps make strolling the outside aircraft displays much more fun.

Admission to the Grissom Museum is $7 per person and $6 for military personnel, including retirees. As you finish your visit, don’t forget to visit the museum’s great gift shop and stock up on some cool aviation and Air Force themed souvenirs.

This is a great little museum which is a must-see if you happen to be in the area around Grissom Joint Reserve Base. If you’re lucky, as I was, you just might catch some A-10s flying overhead and spend a few minutes watching them fly their patterns around the airfield.

Steve Alvarez is the author of Selling War A Critical Look at the Military's PR Machine published by Potomac Books. Photos courtesy Grissom Air Museum.